The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) yesterday accused the police of initiating violence against its members, alleging that 12 persons were killed during its yearly Ashura procession.
The president of the group’s media forum, Ibrahim Musa, said the march was held in Abuja, Jos, Kebbi, Minna, Lafia, Yola, Gusau, Zaria, Kano, Jalingo, Damaturu, Hadejia, and Potiskum.
According to him, “That the mourning procession ended peacefully in places where (members) were not attacked by the police is sufficient evidence as to who the instigators of violence are whenever we are carrying out legitimate religious activities.”
In a statement, Musa said: “The casualty figures may rise due to the gunshot wounds sustained by some of the mourners.”
Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. It marks the day that Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was killed in the Battle of Karbala.
One of IMN’s leaders in Katsina State, Sheik Yahaya, challenged security agencies to confront bandits and kidnappers operating in parts of the state rather than harass citizens observing their religious obligation.
“Our base was invaded by policemen. I told my members to come out of their houses and observe the procession in their areas, which they did. We did not plan to disrupt peace in the state. We only went out to observe our procession and pray for peace to reign in the country. But unknown to us, they (security agencies) had a plan against us,” he told reporters.
The procession in Abuja began as early as 8:00 a.m. at Wuse Market and ended shortly afterward at Berger Roundabout before the arrival of heavily armed security officers.
Speaking on the brevity of the event, the secretary of IMN’s Academic Forum, Abdullahi Musa, said the motive was to avoid a clash with the police.
“Our plan was just to March from Wuse Market to Berger and we have done just that. But the reports we are getting from Kaduna, Gombe, and Bauchi are not so good. Our people are telling us that security forces are teargasing them and shooting live ammunition at them.”
One eyewitness told The Guardian that the sect’s members dispersed before getting to Berger after sighting heavily armed security personnel approaching them in trucks.
“They were marching towards the bus stop, though in a peaceful manner. Suddenly, they started running in different directions as they saw policemen coming towards them. One of the police trucks was even carrying drums of hot water,” he said.
Also, residents of the city were forced to endure hours of traffic gridlock as security operatives mounted checkpoints along the Abuja-Keffi Road.
The police in Kaduna State, meanwhile, dismissed the allegation that its personnel killed some IMN members.
Responding to the claim, the spokesman, Yakubu Rabo, said the command had not “received any report of death casualties.” He said though the members “became violent and unruly,” officers deployed “minimum force” in dispersing them.
He accused the group of “blocking public highways, causing traffic jams and molesting commuters.” Rabo also claimed IMN members threw stones at the police and hit them with iron bolts hurled from catapults.
The Federal Government had in July proscribed the group, with Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu warning that all forms of processions or protests by the sect were banned forthwith.
Rabo disclosed that four persons were arrested in connection with the breach.
This was as the Katsina State command confirmed the arrest of 36 IMN members. According to the spokesman, Gambo Isah, the command “will not fold its arms and watch violent protest being carried out by the group with impunity, infringing on the rights of other citizens of the state.”
Isaiah, who disclosed that a policeman was “seriously injured” without elaborating further, stated: “In compliance with the Federal Government’s directives on the proscription of IMN, the Katsina State police command has put in place stringent security measures to deal decisively with the defiant members of the proscribed group. The (arrested) suspects will be arraigned in court immediately investigation is completed.”
Yesterday, Police Public Relations Officer Frank Mba released a statement clarifying that the ban on processions was only applicable to the IMN.
The statement, however, warned members of the Muslim community to carry out the yearly ritual within the confines of the law and guard against infiltration by unscrupulous elements.
It reads: “The Inspector-General has directed all commissioners of police and their respective supervisory assistant inspectors-general of police in commands and zones to give full effect to the above clarifications and ensure that non-IMN Muslims are not in any way restricted from exercising their freedom of religion, worship, and peaceful assembly.”